Tuesday, May 30, 2017

New Funding Opens Schoolyard Ecology Opportunities for New Groups

Students from Brockton High School and the African Community Education program from Worcester got a chance to participate in the Our Changing Forests Schoolyard Ecology project as part of a field trip activity at Harvard Forest. 

Highstead Foundation support allows lower income groups the chance to visit Harvard Forest and do some hands-on ecological science while they are here.  Applications for fall field trip scholarships are available at the link below.

Brockton High School students (right) collected baseline data for an Our Changing Forests demonstration plot at Harvard Forest.  Students measured and recorded diameter at breast height and tree identification.

African Community Education (ACE) High School students (below right) learned about Tree Identification from Harvard Forest volunteer, Bob Clark (Right).

ACE Middle School and High School students practiced tree identification, measurement and data collection in the Our Changing Forests Schoolyard Ecology project demonstration plots

See more about ACE*and its mission to support African refugees below.
      ACE photos provided by Tim O'Neil

Brockton High School students  collected data using field sheets and measurement equipment.

Harvard Forest Bullard Fellow, David
Buckley Borden shared his artistic
interpretations of HF ecological science
with Brockton H.S. students at his forest studio.

Brockton Environmental Science
students pose in front of the Fisher
Museum where they viewed the internationally acclaimed models (dioramas) portraying the history, of central New England forests.

What does the data look like?  


Stand Density by Tree Species in Plot 1

Basal Area by Tree Species in Plot 1

Carbon Biomass by Tree Species in Plot 1

After the field trip, data that students had collected on paper field sheets were entered onto the online database. 

Once the data manager uploaded the data, these graphs were created using the HF Schoolyard online graphing tools for this project.  This is a quick and easy way to see what the data are showing.  Notice that even though the stand density is dominated by Red Maple based on the number of red maple stems in the plot,  Red Oak is highest in basal area and carbon biomass.  That is because the red oaks present in the plot were among the largest individual trees in that plot.  Interestingly, there is only 1 Large Toothed Aspen in the plot, but because of its huge size, it ranks high in basal area and biomass.

It would be interesting to engage students in a discussion of what they notice about the data based on what they see in these graphs.  Do they understand the difference between what basal area and density are showing?  Can they see the connection between basal area and carbon storage?  What surprises them about what they see?  What questions do the graphs bring up for them

We also completed the field site description sheet. in the field and submitted the  field survey data to the online database.  Notice that we looked at site characteristics and looked for signs of pests, pathogens, wildlife, invasive species , human activity, etc. This information gives us a more complete picture of what our forest looks like right now.  As visiting groups continue to monitor these plots for DBH growth, or decline as well as site characteristics,  we will get a better picture of how Harvard Forest is changing over time.  This kind of plot study is quite commonly done by professional Ecologists at Harvard Forest and elsewhere to monitor change over time.  Schools can contribute to the overall picture of "Our Changing Forests" throughout the Northeast by contributing their data over time.

Plot Data on Online database

Field Site Survey data continued below: 

Many schools are able to set up plots in walking distance to their schools.  This way we can gather data from a wide geographical area.   This year schools from Mass, Connecticut and New Hampshire have contributed data.   Below is a map of field sites who have participated in the project in recent years:

We are seeking new school groups throughout New England to contribute to this study.  See the links below for information on registration for our introductory session this August for teachers to join this project.


ACE Worcester Website.

*"The mission of ACE is to assist African refugee and immigrant youth and families in achieving educational and social stability through access to academic support, leadership development, cultural expression, and community outreach in Worcester, MA. ACE aims to achieve this mission by providing academic and nonacademic programming during after-school and out-of-school time to children and families who come to the United States as refugees and immigrants from African countries and live in the Worcester area. Founded in 2006, ACE empowers youth to succeed academically and supports families through wraparound services."

More Photos of Brockton HS Field Trip:


Photos by Sarah Watt

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Two Schoolyard Teachers Honored at Massachusetts State House for Excellence in Environmental Education

Teachers Anne McDonald and Melanie McCracken were recognized for Excellence by officials from the Executive Office of  Energy and Environmental Affairs at the Massachusetts State House earlier this month.

From left to right:  Toy Town Elementary Teacher, Anne McDonald,  
Harvard Forest Schoolyard ,Coordinator,Pamela Snow, 
and Groton-Dunstable Teacher, Melanie McCracken

What makes these teachers stand out?  

Toy Town Elementary School Fifth Grade Teacher, Anne McDonald, knows how to expand her students’ learning experiences beyond the classroom.  She carefully crafts learning experiences that bring her students outside into woods, forests, waterways, and schoolyard and then brings the learning back inside the classroom in fresh, engaging ways.  Anne puts the time and energy into networking with experts and environmental agencies that can show students aspects of the natural world that they could never access from traditional elementary education resources available to schools with a large demographic of students from lower income families. Winchendon is located far from the museums and institutions available to students near urban areas or University towns. 

 From left to right:  Secretary Matthew Beaton, Teacher Anne McDonald,
Senator, Anne Gobi, SAGEE Chair, Kris Scopinich
 Anne was able to find a wide array of agencies and institutions that exist in North Central Massachusetts, and provide direct experiences for her students that leverage those resources in a way that expands the perspectives of each and every child that it fortunate enough to find themselves in Mrs. McDonald’s fifth grade classroom.  Anne reaches between 85-129 students each year. In addition, Anne includes other fifth grade classes on her field trip visits.   In her 12 years in the classroom, she has impacted well over 1,284 students so far. Her work is well established as she has fine-tuned the learning materials over time. 

Woolly Bully and the Hemlock Tree Field Study (Harvard University):   Students in Anne’s classroom each participate in a field study in their schoolyard, monitoring the health of hemlock trees over time, in partnership with Harvard Forest Ecologist, David Orwig, and a network of other schools throughout New England.  Anne is one of the teachers who has contributed to this study the longest. She has engaged students in monitoring the impact of an invasive insect called the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid for 7 years.  Scientists and citizens are concerned about the impact that this tiny insect could have on New England’s forests because it is capable of sucking the life out of a tree that currently makes up a fourth of Massachusetts forests.  Mrs. McDonald’s study shows promise for hemlocks at her school. So far, her students have not seen any of the invasive insect even though it has been seen elsewhere in the area.  Anne’s students are helping all Massachusetts residents to better understand the impact of this insect on the changing species dynamics and overall ecology over time.   In addition to getting students involved as “citizen scientists”, Anne has helped educate other teachers by presenting her work at teacher workshops and contributing teacher materials to the rest of this K-12 citizen science network.

Forest in Every Classroom (U.S. Forest Service, Project Learning Tree, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture: Anne took part in a graduate course for educators called “The Forest in Every Classroom”. This course was a joint undertaking of the NH Project Learning Tree and the White Mountain National Forest.  Another partner was the USDA Forest Service's Northern Research Station (part of the National Wildlife Federation). Mrs. McDonald uses the curriculum unit she created with PLT resources including the PRE K-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide. Anne has also participated in Project Wild and Project Wet training in Massachusetts.  She uses the resources from these workshops in her current environmental education teaching, as well.

Massachusetts State Parks (DCR):  Students in Mrs. McDonald’s classes also have an opportunity to visit 2 Massachusetts state parks as part of their fall forest trip to Otter River State Forest, where they hike the Wilder-McKenzie Nature Trail to Lake Dennison State Forest and back. Students partake in observational learning activities along the way.

Turners Falls Fish Ladder (Northfield Mtn. Env. Center, First Light Power) In the Spring, students visit the Turners Falls Fish Ladder.  The programming there is developed and arranged with  educator, Kim Noyes, from the Northfield Mountain Environmental & Recreation Center owned by FirstLight Power. Anne uses curriculum created by Northfield Mountain’s staff to teach the students about native fish and also anadromous fish.  They learn about the life cycle, adaptations, and migration of these fish.  Students are able to see them first hand at the fish ladder. Interpreters there from Northfield Mountain share with students about obstacles such as dams that impact their migration and helpful measures taken such as the establishment of the fish elevator in Holyoke and the fish ladder in Turners Falls to hopefully help fish succeed in migrating.

Great Falls Discovery Center ( U.S. Fish and Wildlife; Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation)
The other half of this spring field trip is to go across the street to the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls, MA.  For this part of the field trip, the students are introduced to a model of the Ct River Watershed.  Then, they explore the plants and animals in different habitats in a watershed from the Estuary to the Great Northern Woods.  They also do a pollution activity with a model watershed to learn about point and non-point pollution sources and how to prevent them. 

Lake Monomonac ( Monomonac Lake Property Owners Association; State of NH Dept. of Env. Services):
Later in June, students visit Lake Monomonac which is half in Winchendon, MA and half in Rindge, MA.  The Monomonac Lake Property Owners Association provides pontoon boats. A N.H. State Limnologist comes with interns to take the students out on the boats and use their equipment to test the water.  In preparation for this trip, students participate in activities from a book entitled Interactive Lake Ecology from the NH Department of Environmental Services. 

From left to right:  EOEA Secretary  Matthew Beaton,
Teacher, Melanie McCracken, SAGEE Chairwoman, Kris Scopinich 

Groton-Dunstable High School teacher, Melanie McCracken  has served as a teacher leader in helping to pilot and implement a challenging new experiential outdoor learning project called Our Changing Forests led by Ecologists Joshua Rapp and Audrey Barker-Plotkin,  This involves studying changes in forest composition over time for her own high school students and then going on to mentor other teachers in leading similar projects in a network of schools throughout Massachusetts. Melanie had already proven herself a solid project leader for another long term field study, called Buds, Leaves and Global Warming led by Harvard Forest Ecologist, John O'Keefe, monitoring the length of the growing season for trees in her schoolyard. While she had already mastered that study, and was serving as a mentor for other teachers, she then went above and beyond to take on a brand new project and be one of only a select few chosen to pilot that study with her students.  Not only did Melanie succeed at adding this project on to an already ambitious Environmental Science curriculum, she went on to share her work with an audience of scientists and teachers at Harvard Forest. Ms. McCracken partners with Harvard University scientists who help to provide scientific expertise to enhance teacher and student learning.  Building off of the support of the Schoolyard Ecology program at Harvard Forest,

In addition to the 2 field projects mentioned above, Melanie also provides her students with another unique environmental project supported by more outside expertise from another nonprofit organization.  Students in Ms. McCracken’s environmental club and class were given a special opportunity to work with Bryan Windmiller of Grassroots Wildlife Conservation last spring and summer. They trapped, and tagged two female Blanding's turtles in the marsh beside the high school. The turtles were tagged with radio transmitters. Several community members who work with turtles joined in the project. The team followed the turtles with radio receivers over a period of a month and located two nests. The nests were protected and in the fall they checked the nests each day until hatchlings arrived. These babies are being raised in classrooms over the winter to gain weight and mature. They will be released on campus this spring and Melanie’s class will follow the females again and collect hatchlings to raise in the classrooms and release in the spring.  Ms. McCracken received a $2,000 grant from GDEF (a community based funding program) to purchase waders, radio receivers, and other equipment necessary for trapping and tagging turtles. Students help look after the turtles in the classrooms all winter and also help with trapping and tagging. Bryan Windmiller provides permits (Blanding's Turtles are on the threatened species list for Mass.) and ecologists to work with students. This is the third winter they have raised hatchlings in the classroom, but the first winter that they raised hatchlings that they caught and collected on the high school campus. Melanie plans to continue to engage her classes in protecting and supporting the Blanding's turtle population in Groton through this program which includes community members, students, teachers and Grassroots Wildlife Conservation Inc.

Melanie has involved  between 25 and 79 Groton-Dunstable High School students in field studies each year for the past 5 years, reaching about 260 students overall. Her work is easily replicable in the sense that project protocols and resources are available to any grade 4-12 classroom in Massachusetts through the Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology program.  However, most teachers find that taking on one project is more than enough of a challenge.  Few are able to incorporate these 2 challenging projects at the same time.  It is the amount of time and energy that Melanie invests in her students and the depth of experience she provides to them through this work that makes Melanie stand out among her peers.  She is willing and able to take on new challenges and goes the extra mile to add many layers of depth into each of the learning experiences she presents to students. 

Related Links to see more of what these teachers have contributed to Harvard Forest Schoolyard Ecology:

McDonald. 2010. Coniferous forest journal questions. 
McDonald. 2013. Forest Ecology - HWA.
McDonald. 2015. Forest Ecology Unit

Click on the box next to Buds, Leaves and Global Warming choice on the Google Map to  Explore location and Buds, Leaves Data from Groton-Dunstable High School. Then choose the leaf symbol for Groton Dunstable school in the North central border of Mass./N.H. to access this data. 

Click on the box next to the Woolly Bully choice on Google Maps to Explore location and Hemlock Woolly Bully Data from Toy Town Elementary School.  Then choose the tree symbol for Toy Town Elementary School in the central border of Mass./N.H to access this data. 

Click on the box next to the Changing Forests choice on the Google Map to Explore Our Changing Forests Project Data from Groton-Dunstable High School. Then choose the bent tree symbol for Groton-Dunstable High school along the central Mass.-N.H. border.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

What's New with the Woolly Bully?

Schoolyard Ecology participants continue to contribute to the larger picture of how the tiny Hemlock Woolly Adelgid is impacting one of our most common trees.

 Harvard Forest Field Trip

Photos by Karen Anderson

Students from the MacDuffie School in Granby, Ma. visited Harvard Forest this spring to meet Schoolyard Ecology Project Ecologist, David Orwig in person.  David showed students what the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid looked like on trees at Harvard Forest and up close under the microscope to better understand the lifecycle of the invasive species that is causing significant change in New England Forests right now.

David Orwig provided the following update about his hemlock woolly adelgid research here at Harvard Forest:   

A field mortality survey was conducted during the summer of 2016 in 4 of the 35 hectares of forest in the megaplot on Prospect Hill,  around the hemlock eddy flux tower.  Findings suggests that areas of Harvard Forest are already experiencing a rapid loss of hemlocks as a result of the invasive insect. Since 2010, over 400 hemlock stems (20% of sampled stems) have died within this area.   In addition, recent work by Dave, Emery, and researchers from Umass Boston, Indiana University, and Harvard University, have shown that this decline and loss of hemlock has started to have an impact on water- in this case the amount of water has actually increased in local forest streams – a boost of about 15 percent. The dying hemlocks are producing less food, using less water, and therefore evaporating less water back to the atmosphere, leaving more water available in streams.  But like most environmental change, this effect is not likely to stay the same for long.  Hemlock trees, with their evergreen needles, are relatively efficient water users. As hemlocks die, birch trees often grow to replace them. Birches use far more water, especially during the height of the growing season.  Birch seedlings are already becoming established underneath the dying hemlocks, and if these hardwood trees replace the hemlocks, they may lead to drier conditions and less water in the streams, particularly in mid-summer.  Read the full scientific paper in Geophysical Research Letters:

 Schoolyard Ecology Student Projects

MacDuffie School Students constructed  mini-bioramas of particular biomes studied in Environmental Science class

Biorama by Shane Cauley
Temperate Forest by Taeyoung Ahn

Tropical Rainforest Biorama by Prin Jitroongruangchai

Polar Ice Biorama by Alexa Dermody and
Maddy Levesque
Desert Biome by Wei Zhang

Taiga Biorama by Evan Murdock
and Donovan Richardson
Schoolyard Ecology teacher, Karen Anderson led this project as a way of introducing biomes and ecosystems to students. This seems like a great way that teachers can integrate the experience of viewing the Harvard Forest dioramas into classroom work and learn about a wide variety of biomes including temperate forests that are home to the Eastern Hemlock. 

For this project, students used various animal figures and plant/soil material that was glued/painted in place to resemble the real life biome. Keystone plants and animals were shown/listed for each biome. Students were required to learn the various abiotic factors that were characteristic of their biome. 

Student Projects from Other Schools

 Invasive Species iMovie Trailer by Colrain Central School Students

Colrain Central School Art Teacher, Anne Larsen, took a page from her Schoolyard Ecology Mentor Teacher, Kate Bennett, in leading her students in creating this invasive species movie trailer.  It is worth taking a moment to view both Anne and Kate's students iMovie videos on the links below.

"The Infestation" imovie Trailer by J.R. Briggs Elementary Students

"Invasive Species" Movie Trailer by J.R. Briggs Elementary Students

 iMovie Video Links:  

Student Project- Invasive Species Movie Trailer-Larsen-2017.mp4

Student Project- "The Infestation" iMovie Trailer-Bennett

Invasive Species iMovie Trailer-Bennett

New  Cross-site and Annual Summary Data Online Graphing Tools Available:

The graph above was created using the new online graphing tool that allows one to quickly and easily graph data across sites.  I have chosen to graph the amount of HWA eggs recorded at all sites over the duration of the HWA Schoolyard project.  As you can see, we are not yet showing any overall patterns across our schoolyard study sites. 

Please keep in mind that most schools did not continue this study over more than 2-3 years and thus were not able to capture the long term progression of the adelgid over time. Perhaps more than any other plea we can make to schools is that sticking with the project over time is important. Schools do indeed  have something to offer to the larger effort to see and track the regional changes in our forests over time. Any time students  can contribute new data each year over a series of 5 or more years,  we all benefit.   A number of sites have not ever seen presence of the adelgid and therefore we see most data points at zero along the bottom of the graph.   Zeros are just as important as other data to show us where adelgid has not changed the health of hemlock trees.   

By pulling out only those schools who have participated for four or more years in the Woolly Bully study, we can see the stories as they are playing out over time a bit more clearly.  In particular we can see that the pink line shows the MacDuffie School when it was located in Springfield, Ma. where both HWA and a tornado gave the Hemlocks a one two punch that led to dramatic decline in hemlock populations there. See more on this below.   The green line show the Helen E. James School in Williamsburg, Ma. (near Northampton) where Kindergarten students have been monitoring a single hemlock tree over 6 years to show a dramatic increase  in adelgid populations to the highest levels of any trees in our broader Schoolyard study.  This past year saw adelgid numbers drop.  I can't help but wonder what next year will show. Again the strongest lines are at zero level, showing that most of our sites are still not being impacted by the adelgid, which is somewhat surprising given the amount of mortality Harvard Forest researchers are seeing across New England.

In addition to the Helen E. James School, the J.R. Briggs site shows the expected trend.  

This new graphing tool can also help show summary data for individual sites in order to capture the trend for that site.  We can see here that the J.R. Briggs Schoolyard site along with Helen James school in the earlier graph shows a pattern in the graph above that we might expect to see.  No Adelgid was found between 2005 and 2012.  Suddenly, Adelgid was seen in 2014, and continued to be present in in 2015 and 2016, although not increasing in numbers on these particular study tree branches.  If we had more study sites tracking Adelgid over this many years, our overall data would be much more likely to show similar trends.  

Many sites in northern New England are not yet impacted by the Adelgid. Notice that no eggs have been observed at the Toy Town Elementary School in Winchendon, Ma. on the N.H. border, after 6 years of study.   As we collect more and more data over more years and across more sites, we can better put together a picture of how, when and where the Adelgid is changing the health of one of the most common foundation trees in our forest today.  Will future Schoolyard data show the  adelgid continuing to move north as weather presumably continues to warm?  

Notice that this graph above is showing a decrease in the amount of HWA eggs seen at the MacDuffie School field site in Springfield, MA.  This is the opposite pattern we might expect in New England as a whole, where researchers such as David Orwig have seen an increase in the presence of the Adelgid overtime.  What then can explain this downward trend in number of adelgids at this location?  Note that Springfield MA. was one of the first places where the Adelgid was found in Massachusetts, crossing along the Connecticut River Valley from Connecticut.  In 2009, there were already substantial numbers of Adelgid present there.  As the study trees at this site began to die from infestation, fewer eggs were found.  To make matters worse at this particular location, a tornado hit in 2011, bringing down all the trees at this site.  

The MacDuffie School itself up and moved to another town, Granby, Ma.  where they have not yet found evidence of the Adelgid.  Graphs of the data from their new site are all zeros so far, which is somewhat surprising given its southerly location, but it goes to show that not all hemlocks in southern Mass. have been infested yet.  It remains to be seen how many hemlocks will go unaffected by this invasive insect.  

Stay Tuned for the rest of this story as students from more locations continue to provide us more and pieces of the larger picture over time as they contribute data to the Woolly Bully and the Hemlock Trees Schoolyard Ecology study.  

Learn More about the Woolly Bully Studies at Harvard Forest and Related Schoolyard Sites:

David Orwig Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Research Webpages

HF Schoolyard Ecology Woolly Bully and the Hemlocks Webpages

Hemlock Adelgid Cross-Site Online Graphing Tool